Donnie Brasco

Donnie Brasco (1997)
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Cast: Al Pacino, Johnny Depp, Michael Madsen
Extras: Featurettes, Photo Gallery, Trailers

I'm a sucker for mob movies and whether it's one of Scorsese's mafia films, Coppola's treatment, Damiani's "La Piovra" TV series or as in this case Mike Newell's "Donnie Brasco," the subject matter holds some intrigue for me for some reason. I loved "Donnie Brasco" when I first saw the movie, I loved the DVD and I was eager to check it out again now that it is available on Blu-Ray Disc.

The film tells the story of FBI agent Joe Pistone (Johnny Depp) who is working undercover in New York, posing as a jewel fence by the name of Donnie Brasco in order to gain access to the local mafia. Hitman Lefty Rugietto (Al Pacino) takes Donnie under his wings and makes him part of the family. In fact, he treats him like a son, and lets him on every secret, every deal, every bit of information and puts him in front of all the mafia hotshots. As a result it becomes increasingly harder for Joe Pistone to separate his two identities and he gradually begins descending into the tempting world of the mob where access to money and power is a mere gunshot away. His wife notices the change in Pistone and wants to stop his spiraling out of control but Joe knows that if he is pulling the plug on this operation, it will mean the death of Lefty. The mafia simply has no tolerance for anyone who allowed a federal agent into the family, knowingly or not.

Mike Newell's film is a captivating dive into the dark world of the Mafia with characters that show that mobster come in all colors and facets. Some of them are sadistic, some are dumb, others are comparably nice guys, some are retarded, some are excessively greedy and others just plain nuts. They all have one thing in common, though – they feel they are above the law and allowed to live by their own rules. This illusion of a self-enclosed community is perfectly portrayed in "Donnie Brasco" and helps make these characters so tangible. Offering up a cast that puts actors like Al Pacino, Johnny Depp, Michael Madsen and other familiar faces in front of the camera also helps of course, but much of the movie lives off the script. The solid pacing, the plot development and the building drama make "Donnie Brasco" such a magnetic movie.

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment has prepared a wonderful high definition transfer for the film here, presented in a 1080p presentation in its original 2.40:1 aspect ratio. The picture is absolutely clean and free of defects and holds a great deal of information. Edges are sharp and well defined and throughout the level of detail is immaculate, bringing out every bit of texture in the image no matter how subtle it may be. Colors are balanced and strong perfectly reproducing the movie's look, which is sometimes starkly contrasted, and colorful at others. Never, however, does the film lose the bleak atmosphere the filmmakers created to show this harsh world.

Sony has added a 5.1 channel PCM track to the release which is, of course, the crème de la crème of audio presentation formats. It simply doesn't get any better than an uncompressed audio stream regardless of its format and on this disc the track exhibits a remarkable clarity that helps establish the harsh surroundings every bit as much as the film's cinematography. Making good use of the surround channels the audio is never in-your-face kind of active, but often more restrained and subtle, serving as the perfect ambiance to add realism to the scenes.

This Blu-Ray Disc contains some of the features previously found on the Extended Cut DVD, which means, most of the extras from the Special Edition DVD released in 2000 are not included. As such the commentary track, deleted scenes and isolated score are not to be found here. All we get is the "Out From The Shadows" featurette, as well as the original promo featurette. While they do hold a bit of information they are essentially a little shallow and do not offer all that much information in terms of the movie's production etc. Also included is a Photo Gallery and a selection of trailers for other movies.

"Donnie Brasco" is a very cool film that is edgy, dark and suspenseful. This extended cut has added 20 minutes to the original theatrical version of the film going even more in-depth in terms of the character development. Of course, one would have wished for Sony to have a new commentary track recorded to include with this extended cut and overall the disc feels a bit slim, but still it is a breathtaking movie that looks like a million bucks on this Blu-Ray disc, so get it.